Friday, 24 May, 2024

Federal experiment : Tackling teething troubles  


Arun Gc

People fought for federalism believing that power comes closer to them. Then the slogan is enough to understand the aspiration of the people-”Gaun gaun ma Singha Durbar”. During this entire process, political brainstorming was done excessively. However, science and technology have been seriously overlooked. As a result, no distinction has been made between technical and administrative service during staff adjustment and organisational restructuring. 

The government looks satisfied with the progress of the implementation of federalism in Nepal. The recently completed staff adjustment process was considered a major breakthrough in the implementation of federalism after the successful accomplishment of the elections for the three tiers of the government - local, state and federal. However, the important issue in this process is how those governments function. 

Principle of cooperation
Undoubtedly, the constitution of Nepal has clearly laid down the principle of cooperation, coordination and co-existence.
However, several complexities are persisting at the functional level. For instance, the federal ministries are struggling with compiling reports and execution of monitoring and evaluation functions. Moreover, the implementation of national policies and strategies has become a challenging. 

Human resource is the primary component of the government. The lowest tier of the government - the local unit, is tasked with majority of the roles in the agriculture sector. Unfortunately, the municipals are inadequately equipped with human resources. Furthermore, devoid of clear technical and administrative linkage among the tiers of the government, has created a vivid knowledge and skill gradient. Generally, the majority of the staff adjusted to the local level has relatively limited exposure to programme planning and aligning the global and national priorities in local plans and actions. However, they have good experiences with the implementation of the programme. Additionally, due to the limited staff at the local level, disequilibrium is emerging on administrative formalities and technical service delivery including human resource development of the local government itself. 

Hostile relations
The federal institutions are demanding for reports and data from the provincial and the local governments. However, such demands are rarely fulfilling due to several factors. As explained before, one of the most influencing factors is human resources. The second factor affecting such function is a psychological factor.

The defining the psychological factor is itself a daunting task. Nevertheless, two types of understandings or perceptions are playing a key role in this context. The federal-state and state-local activities are likely to be seen as interfering in each other’s jurisdiction. Likewise, perceived categories of staff - federal, staff and local- have created a hostile relation among theme who were in the same category under the same terms and conditions before the adjustment bill. This barrier is more likely to deepen as time progress.

The third determinant is the understanding of the importance of the data. The majority of the people considered the data as a burden. Even before federalism, then government’s priority in data collection and management was not satisfactory. Several questions were raised about the reliability of data that brought to us by the several ministries. Nonetheless, limited corrective actions were taken to address such issues. 
In fact, data is the foundation for any programme planning. It has personal and political implications, too. For example, without baseline data, how could the elected representatives show what they have done to their people? On a daily basis, they are vocal on prosperity and significant growth. Moreover, now the time has come to compete on growth and development among the local governments and among provinces. Without data, how it can be validated that who is better.  

Agriculture strategy
So is the fate of the Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS), a twenty-year vision document, adopted in 2015 with 10 years action plan for entire agriculture sectors including irrigation, industry, forest and many others. Immediately, after the adoption of the ADS, the country went through the federal restructuring. Many people are still astonished that why the ADS making process never acknowledged the door-knocking federalism at the appropriate level.

The ADS was not produced overnight. Several stakeholders were engaged for years to come up with the ADS. For sure, there was no clarity on the number of provinces and the local level. However, it was certain that the country will adopt federalism. Under such circumstances, the ADS document just place itself as a living document for necessary amendment in the future. 
Even within the federal government, anticipated level of coordination among the stakeholders inside the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development and outside the ministry is not being realised. The poor coordination among the stakeholders was blamed for unsatisfactory result of the Agriculture Prospective Plan (APP), the predecessor to the ADS. Similar is the case with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To achieve SDGs in the stipulated time frame, several coordinated efforts were made at different levels. However, dismantling of the previously established linkage and the absence of provisional linkage has created serious challenges. 

Bureaucratic reforms
Likewise, anomalies are felt on programme planning that should be first started at the local level. Using constitutional rights, each local government prepare its plan and budget. Each state has own periodic plan. Therefore, after aggregating local level budgeting, the province can prepare programme and budget to bridge the policy and programme gaps within their state.
Similarly, after completion of state-level programming and budgeting, federal ministries have to assess the gap between national and international obligations and commitment along with the state and the local level budget-programmes. However, the reverse process is happening right now. 

The current approach of bureaucratic reforms does not seem scientific from any angle. However, with enough time and patience, it can be evaluated after a few years from their functioning and service delivery.
Moreover, until the governments promote innovation within the system, tangible progress in anticipated time is not likely to happen. To realise the national goal of Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali, bureaucracy must be efficient, professional and proactive. Fair provisions of rewards and punishment, and due motivation is fundamental to this end. 

(GC, an MS in Food Security and Agriculture Development, is Agriculture Extension Office at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development)